David Cobb, Winegrower

With the planting of their Coastlands Vineyard in 1989, David Cobb and his late wife, Diane, helped to pioneer pinot noir on the Sonoma Coast. Building on a three-decade career as a marine biologist and ecologist, David has translated his knowledge of coastal environments into one of the Sonoma Coast’s benchmark pinot noir programs. In addition to being the owner and farmer of Coastlands Vineyard, David oversees the viticulture program at each of Cobb Wines’ four partner vineyards. He also guides Cobb’s sales and distribution program, applying the same hands-on approach that informs the Cobb winemaking style.

The son of a naval officer, who was also an organic gardener, David moved around the world throughout his youth before returning to Northern California in the early 1960s. In addition to a bachelor’s degree in marine ecology from San Francisco State University, David holds a master’s in biology from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s in education and the philosophy of science from Stanford. Although much of his pre-winegrowing career focused on his work as a marine scientist working with coastal engineers, David also spent time teaching at  San Francisco State, U.C. Berkeley, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

While working in Saudi Arabia in the 1970s, David discovered home winemaking. “We couldn’t buy wine or beer,” says David, “but the Saudis were happy to sell us Austrian grape juice—so, infidels that we were, we made our own wine.” After returning to Northern California, David, a lover of Burgundies, planted pinot noir vines in the backyard of his home. He also began an intensive study of the wine business in the  late 1970s, and of the potential for growing fine pinot noir fruit commercially in Northern California. “I approached my exploration of wine pretty systematically, and discovered two very important things. First, as a country’s palate collectively evolves, as was happening in the U.S. then, it follows a path that often leads to a growing understanding and appreciation of wines with elegance and complexity, such as pinot noir. Very little of this grape was being grown in California at the time, and even less of quality. These observations dovetailed with the second discovery. After comparing soil types and climatological data, both throughout California and in Europe, I became confident that the ridgetops of the far Sonoma Coast—an area I was pretty familiar with professionally, but which contained almost no grapevines in the 1970s—might be about perfect for producing a more graceful, complex and aromatic style of California pinot noir.”

Despite advice from industry experts at the time that the Sonoma Coast was not really suitable for growing grapes of any kind, and that pinot noir grapes would be an especially poor choice because of their low demand, David and Diane purchased the land for their Coastlands Vineyard in 1988, and began planting the following year. Adding to its pioneering status as one of the very first pinot noir vineyards in the region, the Cobbs also established a cutting-edge, University of California, Davis-certified nursery to explore the potential of upwards of 25 individual Pinot Noir varieties at the site.

In 2001, after years of selling grapes to a handful of highly respected wineries, David joined his winemaker son, Ross, to found Cobb Wines. Though David focuses on winegrowing and sales, he is hands-on in every aspect of the business, including his seasonal role as Ross’s assistant winemaker. He has lived at Coastlands Vineyard for over 20 years, and continues to walk the vine rows every day, championing a sustainable approach to farming that echoes his earlier values as a marine ecologist.

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